Home Field Disadvantage, the NFL Divisional Playoffs

The experts are dumbfounded and I am looking back at most post Friday and wondering how I could have been so blind. Surely, everybody in the Carolinas and Tennessee assumed they were going to have another week to find NFL Playoff tickets. Three of the four favored teams lost this weekend. The Ravens started out by surprising the Titans 13-10, then Cardinals embarrassed the Panthers 33-13, and the upsets were capped off by the Eagles delivering the emotional defeat of the New York Giants 23-11. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to take advantage of home field advantage in a 35-24 win over the San Diego Chargers that was much more one-sided than the score reveals.

How did the Baltimore Ravens beat the Tennessee Titans? The Titans had 391 yards of total offense while the Ravens only had 211. The Titans had the ball for 34:07 minutes while the Ravens only had 25:53 to work with. The answer is turnovers, three turnovers inside the 20. That is 21 potential points erased by two fumbles and an interception.

On October 5, the Titans won in a reversal of the score. This time the Titans could not overcome the unflinching Joe Flacco, whose greatest contributions were three huge passes, including a perfect 48-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason and two long throws that set up Matt Stover for two field goals. Stover’s last field goal broke the 10-10 tie with 53 seconds left and won the game.

The Titans moved the ball easily up to the 20, when a rash of great hits and terrific pressure ended promising scoring drives. Justin Gage had 10 catches for 135 yards to make up for a running game that went without Chris Johnson after he left in the second quarter with an injury to his right ankle. Also, Tennessee managed to aid Baltimore by committing 12 penalties.

The Arizona Cardinals were the last team expected to make it to the NFC Championship two weeks ago. The Panthers were the last remaining unbeaten home team in the playoffs, they had the quarterback with the best rating coming into the game, Cards were 0-5 in the Eastern Time zone, and ‘Zona was missing one of its key receivers thanks to a hamstring injury. But, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Cardinals completely and utterly dismantled the Panthers.

Arizona and Jake Delhoume forced the Panthers to abandon a strong running game to try and keep up with its explosive offense. Delhoume’s 34th birthday began in pleasant fashion with an opening touchdown drive to give the Panthers the games first touchdown. Then Cardinals again shocked many by establishing a run game. They also had a surprisingly soft coverage on Larry Fitzgerald that gave Kurt Warner no other choice but to throw him the ball. Fitzgerald had 153 yards in the first half.

Meanwhile, Delhoume had an awful day with six turnovers, with five interceptions and a fumble. In the end it was a combination of a solid offense by Arizona and a mistake prone quarterback behind the Carolina center that made this a nightmare for the Panthers. Now Arizona gets to play another day and because of this next game, they get Cardinals tickets to host the NFC Championship.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the one team that as overwhelmingly favored by the fans despite being underdogs. Now they get to have an all bird showdown. The game looked close for about three quarters before all the factors finally became too much for last year’s Super Bowl champs to win. Eli Manning was terrible under pressure, no Giants’ receiver could replace Plaxico, the wind had a personal vendetta against kicker John Carney, and the complete lack of pressure against McNabb following a safety in the second quarter and the Giants looked feeble.

McNabb looked like a Pro Bowl quarterback, hitting third and longs all day, making the pressure pass, and just managing the game better than his counterpart. Yes, the Eagles managed to win again despite never getting the running game going. Philadelphia might be in for a second riot and McNabb might be in for another shot at a Super Bowl ring.

The last game of the Divisional Playoffs went as planned. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 35-24, but really had the game with 12:52 left and a 28-10 lead. Sure the game was close in the first half but the Steelers and Roethlisbeger ended the game by holding the Chargers to, I believe, zero yards of offense.

Roethlisberger has been criticized for his difficulty to adjust that demands more accuracy and fewer big throws. Well, Willie Parker ran for 181 yards on 27 carries and let Roethlisberger play comfortably in his old role of making big plays. He threw countless passes for big third down conversions, punted, and hit Heath Miller for a touchdown.

The Chargers defense held Darren Sproles to 15 yards rushing, though he did have 5 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers offense ate up enough time (36:30) to keep Philip Rivers off the field. Rivers had 308 yards and three touchdowns. Though he threw one pick, he surely would have had a few more touchdowns if Pittsburgh was not able to relentlessly run the ball 42 out of 69 total offensive plays.

Now Steelers tickets to Heniz Field will host the bitter division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, for the AFC Championship game.